This article is part of our special report EU ambitions unabated.
Enlargement fatigue should not prevent the South Caucasian country from applying for membership of the bloc in 2024, even though the process might cause frustration domestically, Maka Botchorishvili, the newly elected chair of the EU integration committee of the Georgian Parliament told EURACTIV.
Georgia is preparing to apply for full EU membership in 2024, the Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia recently said. The EU doesn’t treat Georgia as a candidate country, but rather in the less ambitious format of an Associate country member of the Eastern Partnership.
Asked if the post-Soviet country is not afraid that starting the application process may lead to the disillusionment of the population, — as we have seen in some Western Balkan countries that have been stuck in the procedure for more than a decade, — the politician answered that not delivering on promises of integration would also cause frustration.
“I don’t think that mood in Brussels should prevent Georgia from applying for membership,” Botchorishvili said.
“I myself was promised when I was a teenager that one day we will be part of the European Union … but I don’t want it to remain a promise for my daughters’ and my kids’ generation without [having] very concrete things done,” the 41-year old politician added.
The newly elected MP from the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia block, who served as deputy head of mission to the EU before the ballot last year, said that the 2024 application date is also symbolic, as it will mark a decade from the signature of the EU-Georgia association agreement (AA) that now serves as the basis for the relationship.
“As the EU, we are focused on cooperating with Georgia on implementing the AA/DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) to the full, in order to reap its full potential,” European Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero told EURACTIV when asked about Georgia’s intentions.
She said the deal “is one of the most ambitious agreements ever signed by the EU with partner countries, as it represents the equivalent of around 70% of the EU acquis.”
“The decision on membership of the European Union lies with the Member States,” she added.
“For the moment, the DCFTA is still at a very initial stage of implementation and it still needs a lot of push to bring it to the level of ordinary citizens, ordinary businessmen,” Botchorishvili said.
The European Parliament’s report from last year found the progress on the implementation of the agreements has been positive overall, though more remained to be done in ensuring judicial independence.
The Georgian lawmaker said that the implementation of the AA will be a priority, bringing Georgia’s legislation as close as possible to the European law in an effort to boost the so-called legislative approximation.
According to Botchorishvili, “it should not be just words or just ticking boxes, it should be implemented and really translated into people’s lives.”
The diplomat-turned-politician said that the changes she sees since coming back from service abroad are promising.
“Because now you see lots of changes, you see mental changes in people’s mind, and you see what people really want.”
Botchorishvili emphasised that it took time to change the Soviet mentality.
“It is painful, change is never smooth that way, but it is happening,” she said.
The politician added that while EU’s Eastern Partnership policy — which brings together the bloc and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, — has been important for her country, it “shouldn’t be turned into a wall for those who want to go farther in this relationship.”
Meanwhile, Georgians’ support for EU integration has risen dramatically in the last year.
A new survey conducted at the end of 2020, support for EU membership grew from 52% to 73% compared to data from a year ago.
41% of the population now “fully support” EU membership compared to 24% in 2019, according to the data published on Thursday (28 January).
“Today, it might seem like a crazy idea that Georgians are thinking about EU membership but I don’t think that it will look like crazy idea 10 years later. We have to keep in mind that we are changing, the EU is changing, the situation around us is changing, so we have to make clear what we want and where we want to see our country in 10 years,” Botchorishvili said.